As the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway, Ira Levin’s 1978 play Deathtrap is a marvel of layered intrigue — its dark comedy well-played against the mystique of the historic Rialto Theatre in Florence, CO. The two-act, five-character play opened May 24 and runs through June 2, equal parts entertainment and experience in the one-of-a-kind renovated Rialto.

Now in its second season with six staged productions, the Rialto Players are an eclectic troupe of amateur community talent, evolving but clearly determined to survive as the only dedicated live performance venue in Fremont County.

Built in 1923 by Syrian immigrants, the two-story downtown Victorian opera house on Main Street hosted hundreds nightly in its heyday. Its spacious foyer was abuzz under an ornate sparkling glass chandelier, a rounded staircase carrying elegantly clad patrons to the prestigious box seats.

These days the Rialto’s seats are repurposed from an old church, its balcony used for lights and sound with a new concrete floor where the orchestra pit once sat.

Veteran actor Drew Frady plays Deathtrap’s lead, definitively carrying the show as Sidney Bruhl, a middle-aged, has-been playwright stuck and brooding in terminal writer’s block. That is, until opportunity walks into his comfortable Connecticut colonial.

Young and talented playwright Cliff Anderson, portrayed by newcomer Brandon Hyatt, shares the sole copy of a brilliant play he’s scribed, which a desperate Bruhl schemes to steal. The lanky, oafish Anderson seems naïve and ripe for exploitation and Bruhl is wasting no time hatching his plot.

Hyatt is a relative newcomer to acting, and its shows with the awkward movement and missed lines of a developing actor. But like others in the cast, he blossoms as the storyline unfolds and he gains his footing on stage.

Frady and Anderson have great chemistry: the stoic Bruhl resting on his laurels, lapping up false praise from his protégé; Anderson playing the innocent while bending his mentor to his will.  As they finally agree to collaborate, egos collide, mayhem ensues, deceptions take root and the body count rises.

Kathy Madonna plays Bruhl’s loyal and dutiful wife, Myra. Her portrayal is at first weak and somewhat robotic, but she picks up speed as Myra’s complex motives surface. Weary of Sydney’s languishment, the two spar with clever barbs well-executed. Frady’s comic timing, agile movement, cocky expressions and casual stage ease compensate for Madonna’s occasional lags.  Like Hyatt, once she hits her stride, Madonna plays Myra with the restrained and coy subtlety of the character Levin created.

Just as the story turns dark and drags, Deathtrap catapults back into comedy: enter Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp, who happens to live the next cottage over. Flamboyant in garb and gesture, Michelle Hyatt shines as ten Dorp with a welcome infusion of hilarious calamity as the storyline speeds and spins, each character’s motives and maneuverings a delightful surprise.

Sharing the stage with her husband Brandon, Hyatt’s talents rival that of Frady’s. She flows and floats on stage while mastering the rhythmic song of the accent.

Haley Atkinson plays Bruhl’s no-nonsense lawyer, Portia Milgram. Immersed in the Fremont County arts scene for years, Atkinson is another newcomer to performing arts. Still evolving as an actor, she is stiff in her delivery, much like the button-up attorney she portrays. However, like Bruhl’s wife, she is a “plant” as a sleeper character adding an eleventh-hour layer to the plot.

Deathtrap isn’t an easy play to pull off.  But like a film that reveals more sub-plots and surprises with each viewing, Deathtrap in Florence is well worth the watch as the Rialto is rejuvenated and its actors evolve.

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